Sister Margaret Hillary, of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan, lives with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. For the past nine years, she has served as a pastoral counselor and youth minister in a community that was originally Native and is now home to generations of mixed-race people.
White and Native children attended school together, became friends, grew into adulthood together and married across cultures. Now Hillary says many of these mixed families struggle with identity and how to incorporate both Christianity and their traditional spirituality into their lives in meaningful ways.
While many have attended Western, Christian schools, there is a constant aim to recapture the culture and heritage they believe they lost when their parents or even grandparents were forced into boarding schools in the 1900s.
She listens deeply, offering the kind of counseling that allows those facing this confliction to feel at peace with all aspects of who they are. She encourages them to embrace and take pride in their complexities.
Some people, Hillary says, “want to return to traditional ways. Some families are split between traditional and Western practices. When I’ve told them it’s OK to be both, they’ve felt really good. That’s the key to surviving: having a sense of who they are and their identity.”